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Obama Frees Cannabis Prisoner on His Last Day in Office



Pot PrisonerThe White House announced Thursday that former President Barack Obama granted clemency to pot prisoner Ricardo Montes as one of his final acts in the oval office. Thirty-six-year-old Montes had served nine years of his 20-year sentence for illegal cannabis distribution and conducting a criminal enterprise. January 19 was Obama’s last chance to use executive power to free convicted federal prisoners.

Montes and his friend Luke Scarmazzo opened an illegal collective, the California Healthcare Collective, in Modesto, California. At the peak of their business enterprise, the two friends were raking in $13,000 per month. Over the course of the time period between 2005 and 2007, the two young men were responsible for up to $9 million in transactions. Both were convicted with mandatory minimum sentences. Following the case, two of the jurors wrote letters suggesting leniency following the harsh arraignment.

New Jersey-based attorney Georgean Arsons handled both Montes’ and Scarmazzo’s clemency appeals. “I’m just ecstatic for him, so happy. He has three children waiting for him,” told the Sacramento Bee. “I believe he is completely deserving. With all of the changes to marijuana charging practices, he would not be charged today if he was doing the same thing.”

Years ago, Montes’ daughter Nina and Scarmazzo’s daughter Jasmine created an online petition and begged then-President Obama to free their fathers. “I am Jasmine Scarmazzo and I’m 13 years old,” the petition reads. “I’m writing this petition for me and my friend Nina Montes, who is 11. We want our dads to come home and are asking President Obama to grant them clemency. That’s the only way they’ll be released without serving over 20 years.”

The victory was bittersweet, given the fact that Scarmazzo was denied clemency earlier this month on January 6. “I’m feeling very perplexed and somewhat bitter that Luke’s name was not on the list of [clemency] grants today,” Arsons added. “His name should have been right there with Ricardo’s. “It is the same law, the same clemency process. He is as deserving as Ricardo.” The two friends uploaded a rap video featuring the two celebrating cannabis and dissing the war on drugs. Scarmazzo’s clemency denial may be due to his violent past. Scarmazzo was convicted of assault in 2003 and linked to a fatal skirmish involving two other young men.

Obama granted an additional 330 commutations which brings his scorecard to a grand total of 1,715 commutations. That’s more commutations than any U.S. President has issued in a single day. Montes will be released from the Atwater federal prison on May 19, 2017.

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